pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Set Aside

Reading: Psalm 4

Verse 1: “Answer me when I call to you… Be merciful to me and hear my prayer”.

Photo credit: Jordan Wozniak

In Psalm 4 David cries out to God. He is direct and open and honest. He begins the Psalm pleading with God to answer when he calls, to hear his prayer, and to grant him mercy. There is a trust that David has in God. Over the course of his lifetime David has experienced God’s faithfulness and mercy, his grace and love. As we journey in faith with God, we experience this same building up of trust in God.

David is distressed by those in Israel who have turned from God. They are chasing after false gods. David calls them “delusions”. David could be writing these words today to the many people who chase after worldly things – power, acclaim, wealth, popularity. David asks, “How long”? How long will they chase after these delusions? None of these things last; none of them bring peace of heart and mind, none bring true joy or lasting contentment.

David reminds these lost souls, “Know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself”. This is not just for today or even for next year. It is forever. God wants all people to love him more than these earthly charms. Yet some do not recognize the Lord of life, the giver of peace. As children of God, we have been set apart. Yes, the things of this world still draw us in, still call out to us. But the power of the Holy Spirit is greater, God’s love for us is stronger. In faith may we remember God’s righteousness and mercy, being strengthened for each day. Being strengthened may we live as a child of God each day, set apart for his purposes. As such, may we be in the world but not of it.

Prayer: Father God, strengthen me for the battles ahead. Be they big or small, walk with me. Guide me thoughts, words, and actions. May self be set aside to bring you all the glory. Amen.


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Fringes and Edges

Reading: Matthew 9: 9-13

Verse 11: “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners”?

Photo credit: Marten Newhall

Our passage today opens with Jesus calling another disciple as he walks along the road. The man he calls us named Matthew. He was sitting in his tax collector’s booth when Jesus said, “Follow me”. It’s hard to say what an equivalent calling would be today. Tax collectors were almost universally disliked and hated. They worked for the occupying force, the Romans, collecting taxes to pay for the enemy to stay in power. Most tax collectors gathered well above and beyond what the Romans required. Becoming rich was a side perk of this government job. Being wealthy was nice but the occupation limited one’s circle of friends. Matthew’s crowd would be limited to other tax collectors and others who took advantage of others. Money lenders, prostitutes, slave traders… would have been among the crowd at Matthew’s house as Jesus joined them for dinner.

Upon seeing the crowd that Jesus has chosen to become a part of, the Pharisees ask, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners”? Why would Jesus call one of these to discipleship, to following him? Why would Jesus sit amongst this crowd of sinners? I suppose some people today think the same thing when they see their pastor emerging from the hymn sing at the local brewpub or when they see members of the outreach team exiting the local strip club. In response Jesus says, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick”. Jesus did not come to just sit around the temple or local synagogues chatting with the faithful about the scriptures. Yes, Jesus did this and this habit continues to be a very important part of our faith journey. But Jesus also spent the majority of his time doing ministry out in the world – among the tax collectors and sinners, among the hurting and broken, among the Gentiles and others who were marginalized by the religious establishment. These are the ones in need of a “doctor”. These are the ones in need of healing, wholeness, love, a sense of community.

Who are the tax collectors of your neighborhood or community? Who are those on the fringes and edges? How can you minister to these that Jesus surely would have?

Prayer: Lord God, make my heart and will more like yours. Guide my feet to those in need of your love and care. Bring me past the barriers and fears in my mind, trusting more fully in your guidance and direction. Amen.


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Eternal

Reading: 2nd Samuel 7: 1-11 and 16

Verse 16: “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me”.

When I think about today’s passage, in my mind I see an old weathered home, just a skeleton of what once was. Scattered across the country side are farmstead homes and buildings long ago abandoned. They usually lean to one side. There are no shingles, paint, or window panes. These homes remind me of the things of this earth. They are temporary. David desires to build God a home. God does not need or want a home build of wood or stone. Yet God desires to build a home too.

The home that God builds does not consist of wood or stone or any other material found on the earth. All that is here will one day be no more. God builds a home that will outlast all the things of the earth. In verse eleven God says, “The Lord himself will establish a house for you”. Through Nathan, God said these words to David. Through faith, these words remain true for you and for me and for all who call on Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Through the lineage of David, God will build a home whose doors are open to all. In verse sixteen God explains: “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me”. Forever. David’s house will include Joseph of Nazareth, the earthly father of Jesus, the Son of God. Through Jesus the family will grow. Faith in the Lord will move out beyond Israel and into all the world. Through the good news that is Jesus Christ, faith will go out to the ends of the earth. All are invited to become a part of God’s family, a part of his eternal home.

As I think more about that old tattered farmhouse, I think about that elderly man or woman, perhaps eighty or ninety years old. They too have been weathered by time; maybe they lean a bit to one side. Yet the faithful live day by day with an abiding trust in their Lord. When asked, they do not want to be remembered by the fancy car they drove or by the wealth or power that they accumulated. They want their family, friends, acquaintances to remember how much they loved, how they gave much more than they took, how others were blessed simply by being in their presence. They, above all else, want others to see what a life lived for Jesus Christ looks like. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord, as I become more and more mature, seasoned – weathered – I desire more and more to be more and more like your Son. Guide me each of my days to be loving, kind, humble, generous, gracious. Use me day by day to reflect your Son out into the world. Amen.


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Like a Mighty River

Reading: Ezekiel 34: 20-24

Verse 22: “I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another”.

In today’s reading Ezekiel turns his focus to those who are leading, to those who are in charge. The Babylonians were powerful. They exerted their might and took many Israelites into captivity. In exile, the Israelites lived in a society that favored the privileged and wealthy, that allowed greed to exploit the weak, that turned a blind eye to injustice. Those who were wealthy, greedy, unjust are the “fat sheep” that Ezekiel refers to. As one considers our nation today, Ezekiel could very well be writing in 2020.

The ways of greed and inequity and oppression are not the ways that God intends for us to live. God therefore pledges to judge between the fat and lean sheep. God sees how the wealthy and powerful “shove with flank and shoulder”, forcing their agendas, manipulating the weaker, the less powerful. God will intervene, God will put an end to the sins being committed against his children. In verse 22 we read, “I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another”.

Plunder is an interesting choice of words. It maybe feels like an old term, an outdated term. Yet it is very relevant today. A man in our community invested many years earning an advanced degree in college. He is a skilled professional in the medical field. The major corporation that he works for unilaterally cut all people in his profession to 30 hours a week. He, like his colleagues, now has no benefits. This corporation has plundered these people.

God promises to save his flock, to judge between the sheep. There is a promise to end greed, oppression, and injustice. To those living in exile, to those living in unjust systems today, these words speak hope. To the fat sheep, these words should be a warning, a call towards self-reflection. But only the sheep with ears to hear will be changed.

Just as God sent Ezekiel to the exiles in Babylon, we read that God will send David to the Israelites who are surrounded by enemies, who live daily under threat of assault. In time God will come in the flesh, bringing hope and salvation to the people oppressed by the Romans and their own religious leaders. Jesus charged his followers to do as he did: feed the hungry, tend to the sick and lonely and imprisoned, clothe the naked, unbind the captives, bring sight to the blind. It is no wonder many Jews thought Jesus the second coming of Ezekiel.

As we seek to do these things, to follow the example of Christ, we do so with the realization that they run counter to our culture, against the ways of greed and power, in defiance of the oppression and injustice that is too prevalent in our nation. May the Lord our God empower us as we seek to be light and love, peace and compassion, mercy and justice to the world.

Prayer: Lord God, give me feet to walk the narrow road, the hard path. Give me courage to stand for those who are weak, lean, powerful, voiceless. May your justice roll down like a mighty river. Amen.


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A Relationship with God

Reading: Exodus 20: 1-4 and 7-9

Verses 3 and 9: “You shall have no other gods before me… Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy”.

In today’s and tomorrow’s readings we hear Moses speak, giving the Ten Commandments to the Israelites. They have been wandering in the wilderness and are ready to hear from God. As they draw nearer to the Promised Land, God begins to give them some rules to live by. Being dependant upon God not only for your meat, bread, and water but also for which direction to go has kept the people focused on God. Once they enter the Promised Land, settle down, and begin living, it will be easier to forget or neglect God. This is our pattern too. When life is good, we often forget our need for God. When we allow busyness a foothold, we neglect God. Times in the wilderness remind us of our need for God.

The first four commandments deal with our relationship with God. In general these four are about honoring our relationship with God. The first reminds us that God is God. Therefore, we shall have no other gods. Thus, God prohibits idols – things that take the place of God. Next is another prohibition: do not take God’s name in vain. The fourth calls upon us to keep the Sabbath holy, mirroring God’s actions in the creation narrative. For Jews and Christians, there is only one God. The creator and sustainer of the universe and all life is clearly the only God. There is one supreme being. God desires to be #1 in our lives. When our focus is on God, when he is leading us through life, when we recognize God as the giver of our water, food, resources, money… then God is #1 in our lives.

Our relationship with God falters or suffers when we allow idols or other “gods” (small ‘g’) to ascend to #1. When the Israelites entered the Promised Land, it would be the labor of their hands and the allure of the cultures around them that would draw their focus away from God. When we get too caught up in work and wealth and in the world around us, we too lose focus. That is why keeping the Sabbath holy is so important. It reminds us of God. It breaks the pattern of work, work, work. It draws us away from the world. When we intentionally lay aside our labors and we turn all of our focus to keeping the holy day holy, we reconnect with God. In doing so we find rest and renewal for our souls and for our bodies. Each and every week, may it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, bless and keep me, lead and guide me. May each day of work be fruitful. May each Sabbath be holy. Teach me balance in my life. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Blessings

Reading: Psalm 112

Verse 1: “Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who finds great delight in his commands.”

Psalm 112 is a beautiful reminder of the great gain one finds from a faithful walk with the Lord. Verse one begins with “blessed is…” and the psalmist continues on by recounting all the ways that God can bless the faithful: children are blessed, good comes, and the heart is secure. A faithful walk can be one without fear, one without being shaken. Living faithfully can draw out ones generosity, graciousness, compassion, and sense of justice. Choosing to fear the Lord and to honor his ways leads to a blessed life.

Not all who live a faithful life will be wealthy or healthy or free from troubles. Blessings are not always monetary bounty. Many who live within a budget and do not have much beyond the basics feel very blessed and contented, living joyous lives. Blessings are not always living healthily until 94 years of age or more. The blessings come in being assured of God’s presence and love in and through the illness and disease and other physical trials of life. These things are part of life for almost everyone. God’s presence is the gift of blessing for the faithful amidst their trials and sufferings. Life will bring other times of trouble too – some self-inflicted, some by others doing. In the same way, the faithful can turn to God and can rely on God’s strength to get through these seasons as well.

As the Psalm draws to a close, we read, “his righteousness endures forever”. Living a faithful and righteous life here can bring many blessings, both here and in the kingdom to come. As we live out our faith in the here and now we also look forward to our heavenly home. May we walk each day faithfully, blessing others as we are blessed by God.

Prayer: Loving Father, life is truly better when lived in close relationship with you. Strengthen me in moments when I falter or am weak and lift me up. Encourage my daily walk through the power of your Holy Spirit. May all I do and say honor you. Amen.


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Never the Same

Reading: Luke 19: 1-10

Verse 5: “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today”.

Zacchaeus is like many we see coming to Jesus. He is not popular. He lives on the edge or outside of society. He has few friends. He is looked down upon by the religious order and by almost everyone else. This tax collector is like others who came to Jesus: the lepers, the prostitute, the adulterous woman, the blind, lame, mute, deaf, the possessed… Zacchaeus has chosen his lot in life – one would bid for the lucrative position of tax collector. He chose wealth over many other things and over many relationships. He is where he is in life by his own choices.

How like Zacchaeus we are! We might not be tax collectors but we do often choose things ahead of our faith. Every time we sin – no matter how big or small – we are choosing self over God. Each time we make something more important than God we are elevating self over God. The choice is not limited to wealth or possessions. We can pursue a host of other things more than we pursue our faith. We chase after status and titles, after accomplishments and success. We can work hard so that others notice us or so that we gain that recognition. Yes, we can struggle with keeping faith the top priority in our life.

Zacchaeus heard Jesus was in town and wanted to see him. Zacchaeus was not looking to be healed or to have an audience with Jesus. He was curious. For Zacchaeus, yes, friends and some acceptance would have been nice. But life was okay. Wealth can make life feel okay. So can titles and recognition, possessions and status. Zacchaeus runs ahead of the crowd and climbs a tree just so he can see Jesus pass by.

As Jesus gets to the place in the road adjacent to Zacchaeus’ tree, he stops, looks up at him, and says, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today”. The curious is captured by the curiosity. Life will never be the same for Zacchaeus. It was never the same for the lepers, the prostitute, … It was never the same for us. In this sense, we too were once like Zacchaeus. We were curious about Jesus and he eventually worked his way into our lives. Who do you know that is curious about or is searching for Jesus? Help them to know him today.

Prayer: Lord God, give me the words to speak today to turn hearts to you. Guide me by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.


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Christ Brings New Life

Reading: Luke 18: 9-14

Verse 7: “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted”.

Pride. One can take pride in one’s work or in something one is doing. If all it leads to is doing your best and being happy and content with the result or outcome, then pride is a good thing. But if it leads to boasting or bragging, then there is a problem. When one begins to feel superiority and arrogance creeping in, then pride has taken root. From there it is only a small step to judging and even condemning others because they fall short of your standards or expectations. Here sin has fully taken root. This is a path that the voices of the world seek to lead us down. Worldly success is measured in volume of wealth and possessions, in titles and appearance. Pride easily takes root in the pursuit of worldly success and gain.

In our parable today, the Pharisee struggles with pride. His pride is not rooted in wealth or possessions in a worldly sense. The Pharisee’s area of expertise is the Law. He has excelled at learning and now practicing the Law. He has risen up the religious system to the highest accolade: Pharisee. Rising to the top naturally fuels one’s pride and ego. Even in religious systems it can be a battle to keep pride in check. In our story, the Pharisee has failed to do so. His exquisite practice of the law has clearly elevated him far above others. His words call out the obvious differences between himself and those several rungs down the ladder – the robbers, evil doers, adulterers, and tax collectors. The Pharisee even thanks God that he is not like them.

The other option would be to look at such as these and to be moved towards empathy and compassion. This option would lead to ministering to them, to helping them to come to know God, to introducing them to the only one who can help them overcome their sin. It is so much easier to sit in judgment and to just go on with ones own life.

It is messy to enter into someone’s life if they are struggling with adultery or some other form of evil such as an addiction or abuse. If one has walked that same road, it is not easy to think that maybe you can “fix” them. There’s that pride again. Only the Lord Jesus can bring complete healing and wholeness. With a humble servant’s heart we must simply bring Christ to them and then step back, allowing Jesus Christ to work in them. We can bring the gospel; it is Christ that brings new life. May it be so.

Prayer: God, convict me when pride rises up and starts to gain a hold. Help me to die to my pride. Fill me instead with the heart of Christ, ever seeking to help others know the healer, the redeemer, the restorer – Jesus. Amen.


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Knowing Their Name

Reading: Luke 16: 6-19

Verse 20: “At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus”.

In the opening verses of Luke 16 Jesus talks about how many the love the things of this world and about how shrewd the worldly are in getting what they want. Jesus reminds us that we are rich in the things of God and he encourages us to be faithful in how we use these blessings. He concludes by warning us that we cannot serve both God and wealth. Just a few verses later we read the story of the rich man and Lazarus.

Our passage today illustrates what happens when one loves the things of the world too much. The rich man is dressed in fine clothes and lives in luxury. He probably does not know the name of the one who lies just outside his door. He treats Lazarus as if Lazarus did not exist. When one allows wealth to become the god that matters, then it becomes a struggle to see past your own wants and desires and pleasures. The focus becomes inward and narrow and selfish. Choosing to live this way does not yield an eternal home with Jesus.

We do not know much about Lazarus either. He was a poor beggar who lived a hard life. He was hungry but received nothing from the rich man’s excess. We can assume that Lazarus was a man of faith because he spends his eternity in a heavenly home. And we know his name. We know his name because Jesus knew his name. Lazarus was a child of God who claimed his place in God’s family. Contrast him to the rich man, who is also a child of God. He did not claim his inheritance though because he was consumed by the things of this world.

The world still operates this way. We know the names and faces of the rich and famous. We see a homeless person on the street and we’d just assume avoid them. Knowing their name is out of the question. Yet God knows their name. Jesus knows their name. And Jesus says to us, “Come and follow me”.

Prayer: God of all, you have eyes and a heart for all. Give me your eyes and heart. Jesus had the hands and feet of a humble servant. Give me those hands and feet. Strengthen me to walk the way of Jesus this day and every day. Amen.


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Be Generous

Reading: Luke 16: 9-13

Verse 12: “And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own”?

Money is a necessity and a reality of life. But it does not have to be a high priority. In the modern world we all need money or wealth. It provides us with shelter and food and clothing and the other basics needed to live. But money can also bring us worldly pleasures and things we do not necessarily need. The pursuit of or the prioritization of the things of this world is what causes money or possessions to step ahead of God in our lives.

Our passage opens with Jesus telling us to be like the manager in terms of wisely using our worldly wealth. Most of us have some disposable income. After the mortgage or rent and all of the other necessary bills are paid, we have a sum of money to use at our discretion. It does not matter if that is $20 or $1,000. The same can be said of our time. We have “x” hours a week to do what we want with. Jesus is telling us to use this “worldly wealth” to build connections with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit – those “friends” with an eternal home. When we use our discretionary income and time to serve God and to make him known, then we are like the shrewd manager except we are finding favor with those eternal friends.

Next Jesus addresses all of us – no matter how much or how little wealth or time or talents we have at our disposal. If we only have a little money, do we do God’s work with it? If we only have a little time to read our Bibles or to have a faith conversation with someone, do we? Or do we convince ourselves that we might need that money for a rainy day or that the time would be better spent on a nap or in front of the television? We all have time and wealth and gifts and talents that we can use to build our faith and God’s kingdom. The question is: do we?

In verse twelve Jesus turns to the basic fact that all we have is really God’s. Our time, our wealth, our talents… are all gifts from God. Jesus asks, “And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own”? He is asking us how in the world will we enter heaven as heirs or co-owners with Christ if we do not follow him here on earth? If we do not walk daily with Jesus, keeping him ever the priority, then we will not dwell eternally with him. It is quite simple. To that end, may we be abundantly generous with all that we have been given – generous to God and generous to others.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be a more humble servant. At times I want to guard my time and my other gifts. Answering the call or responding to the Holy Spirit is sometimes hard when self rises up. Lead me today and use me as you will. Amen.